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Towerguy

Ethanol vapors. Hazard?

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Being a startup distiller, I am frequently exposing myself to fairly concentrated ethanol vapor during the production of our spirits. Has anyone found a good resource for determining whether this is a health hazard, and if so, how to minimize it? All I can find on the internet concerns people (mostly college students) purposely inhaling ethanol vapors for recreational effect. I just want to make good adult beverages. Any thoughts? TIA.

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You could consider buying a canary, and if he starts whistling off key, you would know it's time to open the window :)

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OSHA defines a permissible exposure limit for ethanol vapor, and you can easily find measuring equipment to let you know what it is.

I believe the legal permissible limit is 1000ppm over an 8 hour shift. I think this corresponds to something like 3% of the LEL, but don't quote me.

https://www.osha.gov/dts/chemicalsampling/data/CH_239700.html

http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/idlh/64175.html

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Here is a reference that says prolonged exposure to 5,000ppm is sufficient to create the symptoms associated with intoxication:

https://books.google.com/books?id=e4_S46UcI2AC&pg=PT88&lpg=PT88&dq=ethanol+vapor+concentration+intoxication+ppm&source=bl&ots=owD-vGBc2G&sig=fimnaS0VCPbqF_vU7sQtiC6dYjs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=heqvVJOIKYeegwS77YPIBg&ved=0CFYQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=ethanol%20vapor%20concentration%20intoxication%20ppm&f=false

Which I suspect means if you at all feel intoxicated by exposure to vapor, you are well over the legal limit per OSHA.

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Like the canary scenario best. How ya doin Roger

Matt

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Hey all,

I appreciate the humor in some of the responses, but this is a damn serious post.

Towerguy, can you be more specific in the vapor you are being exposed to? My first thought is incomplete condensing which is doing a lot more than giving you the potential for inhalation hazards and doing a lot more to drive the potential for fire and explosion up.

We can help, but James did a good job of sharing some info there and you need to take a serious look at your condensing strategy. If you're getting loopy from ethanol vapor you're not too far away from a serious incident. You need to consider not producing until you build a system that isn't exposing you to ethanol vapor.

Cheers,

McKee

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John brings up an important issue- that alcohol vapors are extremely explosive and I had been to a large chemical plant where fumes were escaping out garage type door, wind carried them close to 50 yards away to their substation where an electrician caused a spark that blew him up, started fires at the plant and resulting in lawsuits and the plant closing.

I do hope your process area is vented extremely well.

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Thank you MG.

Not a standard, but a rule of thumb......any area with alcohol vapors inside should be turning over the entire volume of the room 5 times per hour.

Cheers,

McKee

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Thanks for the replies. It is not an issue with our condensers, but while collecting low wines, we then transfer them in batches into a ss tank, which is away from the still. While dumping the low wines into the tank, the ethanol vapors are pretty intense. I try not to inhale while pouring them in, some exposure is hard to avoid. Our ventilation is pretty good, and other than right by the low wine tank, there are no noticeable fumes.

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You are dumping them in? Best to buy a pump, put a lid on the tank, ground everything right, and not expose yourself to such fumes. This is one of my pet peeves along with people running a still by taste. Constantly sticking a finger in to taste. It does not work and by the end of the day you are knee walking and there is no way to run a place under the influence. A small aod pump should take care of your problem.

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Pump, don't dump.

Ethanol vapor exposure is a significant health hazard. Respiratory intake is the fastest way to get ethanol into the blood stream and to the brain. If you anticipate potential exposure to vapor, wear a suitable respiratory mask.

You should be exhausting air at any location where there might be significant release of ethanol vapor. You should be having regular slow change overs of air in the distillery.

Ethanol vapor is highly explosive. You should have an emergency high volume vent capability in the distillery for times when you might have a spill or a swamp of the condenser.

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Obviously exposure to ethanol vapour in the workplace is not good. Not only due to the potential for the fire/explosion hazard, but also due to the potential of getting 'drunk' in a dangerous working environment.

But for someone peddling booze... There is certainly some irony to be appreciated in "Ethanol vapour exposure is a significant health hazard".

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Obviously exposure to ethanol vapour in the workplace is not good. Not only due to the potential for the fire/explosion hazard, but also due to the potential of getting 'drunk' in a dangerous working environment.

But for someone peddling booze... There is certainly some irony to be appreciated in "Ethanol vapour exposure is a significant health hazard".

especially when you are in a nosing class ;-)

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Look at it this way: The lower flammability limit (LFL) for ethanol in air at 25C is 3300 ppm (3.3%). Assuming you do you do not have sensors installed to monitor vapor concentration, you should be trying to ensure that during normal operation you are staying under 25% of the LFL, which would be 825 ppm. If you persistently operated at the OSHA limit, not only would you be exposing yourself to a health hazard, you would also exceed the targets in the DISCUS and NFPA codes.

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4 hours ago, biodzldan said:

Look at it this way: The lower flammability limit (LFL) for ethanol in air at 25C is 3300 ppm (3.3%). Assuming you do you do not have sensors installed to monitor vapor concentration, you should be trying to ensure that during normal operation you are staying under 25% of the LFL, which would be 825 ppm. If you persistently operated at the OSHA limit, not only would you be exposing yourself to a health hazard, you would also exceed the targets in the DISCUS and NFPA codes.

That is the correct percentage for the ethanol LFL, but 3.3% is not 3300 ppm, it is 33,000 ppm. So if you are keeping below levels for prolonged exposure, you will be well below LFL.

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